Thursday, December 11, 2014

Rohloff XL Brings New Levels of Phatness

Ollie on a headland 
Fat bikes have squashed a path through the biking world even wider than the fluro-shorted bandits of Enduro. These trending, bulbous tired beasts caught some by surprise and left even more perplexed. The appeal of a heavier, slower more cumbersome bike is hard to explain, but one short ride (link) was all I needed to get bitten by the fat biking bug.  With supreme traction, momentum and the ability to ride crazy terrain (like a sandy beach or straight up a set of 10 stairs) they offer a level of off trail adventure which is unparalleled.

Testing the easy range of the 'hoff up a steep pinch
I was a reasonably slow adopter, taking possession of my On-one Fatty more than a year ago. In a short time I reduced the Shimano XT drivetrain to a shadow of its former self. Floppy pivots and a flogged chain meant chain suck began as soon as the mix of sand and water reached sub-optimum, which was pretty much anytime I went riding on a beach. So while 5 p.s.i  100mm wide tires lapped up the sand,  the failure of the drivetrain to impart forward impetus meant I could only pedal when sand conditions were perfect, severely limiting my fat bike enjoyment.

Sandy serenity
The obvious solution to this is to run a single speed-un appealing given the low range required, or ideally an internally geared hub, which till a few months ago was as rare as unicorn tears. As a long time user of the Rohloff hub for off-road riding, I dropped a line to the wizards in Germany and encouraged them to develop something appropriately bomb proof, but they didn’t let on that something was already in development.

Rohloff XL pre wheel build
So fat, it doesn't fit in the photo frame
Imagine my surprise then when the truly monstrous Rohloff XL was announced in 170mm spacing which would drop right into my Fatty. Through some exceptional fortune my offer of testing services was accepted and after a protracted wheel build I was rolling and ready for an ill-fated Snowy Mountains adventure.

Since the Snowys,  the hub has started to bed in, and I’ve taken it on some great sandy adventures where the ability to just pedal without fear of drivetrain disobedience has cranked up the fun factor.  Most recently I headed out with Brad and Chad  of Hurt fame, to map a route from Woy Woy to Newcastle for their new Fat Hurt route.
Brad tells us a story
Fat riders on the roll
Organ rattling stairs
Fat bikes even go okay in the forest
While slippery rooty descents and kidney rattling stairs made for interesting trail obstacles, it was the sandy shore where the hub really shone. Running a 34 tooth sprocket with a 17 tooth cog, I had a nice low ratio which meant I could churn through the sand with relative ease.

Where the magic happens
A common complaint against the Rohloff is the heft, but in the fat bike application where a single tube can weigh as much as an entire 29er wheelset, the increase in weight is barely noticeable and it never ceases to amaze me how it positively responds to poorly timed shifts.  

Chad and Ollie discuss tire pressures while awaiting beach rider's preferred fuel; fush and chups
As for durability, Chad who we rode with towards Newcastle is running a Rohloff on his Surly Moonlander, and if the state of his frame is anything to go by it hasn’t seen a great deal of love. His favored riding shoes are jandals (or pluggers), and the reason for this is obvious when you see Chad huffy toss his bike into the sea to circumvent an untraversable waterway. Rust pinholes and a hobo-chic patina on the frame have me fearing for the steel frame’s life, but the Rohloff just keeps on ticking.

I only hope to be able to log enough adventures on my hub to do the supreme durability justice, and given Australia’s proliferation of sand I’m probably in the right place!

Thanks to Brad for the photos!


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